Here we are. It’s the day after Christmas and we are in New York City to see the decorations, skate in Rockefeller Plaza, and visit some super geeky places like Nintendo New York, Midtown Comics, and the ThinkGeek retail store. As a surprise, we also decided to hit Elf The Musical at the Madison Square Garden theater.
The musical is based on the 2003 movie Elf which starred Will Ferrell, James Caan, Ed Asner, Zooey Duschanel, and Bob Newhart. It initially had a Broadway run of 57 performances from 2010-2011, followed by North American tours, a Broadway revival and a West End production that spanned 2011-2016. The version we saw is directed by Sam Scalamoni, and more closely follows the book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin than the actual original film.
We were delighted to see veteran performers from both stage and TV in the cast. Erik Gratton (Grimm, All My Children) played Buddy the Elf. George Wendt (Cheers, Whose Line is it Anyway) played Santa. Familiar TV faces included Danny Rutigliano (Elementary, Goodfellas) and Christopher Russo (Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Quantico).
There were plenty of standouts among the cast who have spent more time on stage than on TV. Here are the standouts (as voted on by the members of the Geek Wolfpack Podcast who attended):
3. Deb (Ruth Pferdehirt) – Much more fleshed out than in the movie, the role of Walter Hobbs’ secretary is totally over the top. She’s a gossip, a pitch girl, a flamboyant dancer, and the keeper of the boss’ schedule (and coffee). Ruth is crazy emotive and her arm movements and facial gestures can be scene from the back row.
2. Michael (Trey Middleton) – Buddy’s kid brother is one of the emotional anchors of the film. He is paired with his mom, Emily (Cynthia Ferrer) for most of his numbers, and they all tug at the innocence of a child torn between the love of Santa Claus and the social process of outgrowing that love. Middleton is a multi-sport athlete who is positively fearless in front of a crowd. He encapsulates everything there is to love a bout the latch-key kid who just wants the love of his parents.
1. Jovie (Veronica J. Kuehn) – The undersized, not-into-Christmas juxtaposition of Buddy’s eternal optimism, Jovie’s role is a slow burn. She’s introduced as someone who hates singing and is skeptical of Christmas. Her ability to express herself is equally limited, but Kuehn takes advantage each and every time that the script allows her to open up and display her talents. A veteran of Elf, Mama Mia!, and a soloist with the Boston Conservatory, Kuehn has a vibrato that lasts for days. She can carry a cast as a lead, but fits comfortably into her supporting role here as the love interest and primary feminine voice.
The musical has plenty of callbacks and renewed applications of the themes introduced early on. Just as with the cast, we’ll relay a couple of our favorite numbers from an amazing score. Here are our 3 favorite songs:
3. “I’ll Believe in You” – my personal favorite. Walter has been an absentee father for most of Michael’s life. His Christmas experience has been so bad that all Michael wishes for is a day with his father. Michael and his mother make a pact to believe in Santa, if only Walter will once again spend Christmas with them. It becomes a major plot device and drives the story, even without requiring a musical number.
2. “Sparklejollytwinklejingley” is a theme. It is Buddy’s pitch when he joins the department store. It is the external theme when he pitches the idea of Santa to a broader crowd. This approach misses once but connects later. It actually becomes something viewers can grab onto and celebrate.
1. “Nobody Cares About Santa” opens the show’s second act. It features a group of fake Santas in the setting of a Chinese restaurant on Christmas Eve. There isn’t a more anti-Christmas environment than this. The scene connects a wide range of voices with that minor-scaled anchor of post-holiday depression.
Our advice: See it for yourselves! Elf the Musical was hilarious from end to end. It featured a one-a-million level of talent on the stage. Our family loved it, and so will you.
Elf the Musical is worth it. You’ laugh. You’ll cheer. All else is up to you.